Turkey: Will the Basilica-Museum St. Sophie Become a Mosque?

Source: FSSPX News

The ex-basilica St. Sophie in Istanbul has been a museum since 1935. It was built in the 6th century on the site of a former church built in Constantinople in 360 by the emperor Constantine; it became a mosque after Constantinople was taken by the Turks in 1453. The name St. Sophie comes from the Greek Hagia Sophia, which the Turks changed to Ayasofya, and means Holy Wisdom, for the primitive church was consecrated to the Wisdom of God. Between 532 and 537, Justinian’s basilica was built in a Byzantine style. With this edifice the emperor wished to surpass the Temple of Solomon, which was considered to be the most beautiful building in the world. After Constantinople was taken on May 29, 1453, the Sultan Mehmed II immediately decided to transform St. Sophie into a mosque. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), an ardent promoter of a secular State, decided to put the place of worship out of use and “offer it to humanity”: he had the great circular panels bearing the names of Allah, Mohammed and the caliphs taken down; St. Sophie became a museum. The panels of Arabian calligraphy were put back in 1951.

However, some Muslims, supported by the Turkish leaders, would like to reconvert the museum into a mosque. Last October, on the feast of Aïd, the Imam of Sultahamet asked the government to return St. Sophie to the Muslim cult. The debate continued when the Turkish Vice-Prime Minister Bülent Arinç called the museum “St. Sophie’s mosque” that “will soon smile again”, a declaration made on November 16, 2013, at the inauguration of a museum of rugs that are a part of the works conserved at Ayasofya, recently restored by the Turkish General Direction of Foundations. According to the anglophone Turkish newspaper Hürriet Daily News, the renovation of the old Byzantine building should begin next year. The project of converting the St. Sophie museum into a mosque has been brought up regularly since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into power in 2002.

While the party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sauthorized the reopening of several Armenian churches and of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Sumela, the number of mosques has increased by 7% since it came into power, hundreds of mosques being built throughout the country. Let us not forget that two church-museums – in Trabzon on the coast of the Black Sea and in Iznik, in the west of the country – have been rehabilitated as mosques the last few months.

All the while declaring its desire to become a member of the European Union, the Justice and Development Party is seeking to impose its vision of Islam upon all of Turkish society. Turkey presently has 83,000 mosques, 3,000 of which are in Istanbul, including the Blue Mosque.

(source: apic/fides/radiovatican/afp/kna – DICI#287 Dec. 20, 2013)

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Turkey: Parliament considers a proposal to reconvert the Hagia Sophia to a mosque